Cognitive Science · Human Thinking · The Human Mind and Brain

“Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain”, by Antonio Damasio

The article below is a summary of Antonio Damasio’s book, “Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.”

This post is still in very rough shape, to say the least.  It is basically just a set of notes that I took on the book when I read it.  You might be able to get something out of these notes with a bit of struggle though.  I apologize for the state of this post.   I’ll get back to whipping it into a more readable shape just as soon as I can find the time to do it.  This blog is new, and there is currently more work than I can deal with.  Thanks for your patience.


Chapter 1, Awakening

Consciousness = Mind + Self

William James is a favorite philosopher of Damazio

There are two ways of thinking about self: Object and Knower

Self as Object is the material Me, including all the physical stuff I own and have

Feelings are somatic markers

Feelings of knowing

Me = Object, The material Me, Me is the early self in evolution and in embryology

I = knower = self = Consciousness

Me is primitive, I is the complex evolved me

The I is sacked on top of the Me in a human

Me is the self in an early evolutionary or embryonic form

Actionable images

Mind is unconscious without self

Mind needs subjectivity (Self) for Consciousness to exist

John Searle wrote a book called Mystery of Consciousness. [There is no Kindle of this book.]

Mental images are an important part of consciousness. These images can be auditory or sensory or tactile as well as visual.

Consciousness is “Making the images ours.”

Consciousness is Self coming into mind. The book title is literally true. When self comes to mind it is consciousness.

Self is a real process. It is not illusory.

Not all neuroscientists accept the idea of self

William James said the self is biological, that it comes from neurons, tissues and the physical, material brain.Hume says all is perception. There is no self.

The self is the witness of the mind. Without self, the mind can exist but no one is ever aware of it.

Mind unwitnessed is still mind though. Self is the only way an organism can know mind

Self is Damazios route into consciousness. There are other routes used by other people

Mind that is unwitnessed by self precedes consciousness in Evolution, in embryos and in very young children

The self is still being modified in our day and age: Movies, electronic media, digital expression all change self.

Mind can only be viewed by the self which is very unreliable.

Self is our only route to knowledge

But self is unreliable. It depends on intuition which is unreliable. [Intuition is Kahneman’s number 1 thinking].

However, it is only the self which makes reason and science and logic possible

Reason and science can correct the errors of intuition. Intuition comes from the self.

Reason and science correct the errors of self.

Consciousness creates culture and civilizations.

Mind is not different from the body and biological tissues and cells.

The mind-body split comes from the fact that the self looks inward toward the mind, and outward toward the body.

MInd has been associated with Quantum theory. Both are complex and mysterious. But they are not necessarily related.

Neurons > circuits > networks.

Brain patterns > maps > images

This book is not based on theories but frameworks

The Main Ideas of the book

1) The body is the foundation of the conscious mind.  The Proto-self comes from the upper brain stem, not the cerebral cortex.  

2) The proto-self is attached to the body in a continuous brain-body loop, a  brain-body bond.  The body is the rock on which the proto-self is built.  The conscious mind is closely attached to the Proto-self.

3) The main product of the proto-self is primordial feelings.  These happen spontaneously and automatically to anyone who is awake.  They are mainly pleasure and pain.  Feelings map the body and are never separate from the brain.  

4) Brains are built beginning at the brainstem level, not at the cortex level.  The proto-self is the foundation for the more complex levels of self.  The cerebral cortex goes far beyond the brain stem.  Proto-self leads to core self leads to autobiographical self which contains a sense of past, present and future.

5) Consciousness does not happen in one part of the brain.  It happens in many brain sites.  You can think of the various brain sites and the final product of the human brain as the many instruments in an orchestra playing a complex symphony.  There is no conductor before the performance.  The conductor comes into being as the performance unfolds.  The conductor is the self.  Simple brain coordination leads to a grand symphony with a conductor.  ie, the brain stem + the body + images + the cerebral cortex + the self is what we call human consciousness.

6) Human consciousness manages our lives and keeps us safe from danger.  But life management and safe keeping of life is not dependant on consciousness.  Even single cell organisms do this without consciousness.  Biological value is everywhere in life.  Life regulation, safe keeping of life,  is called homeostasis.  Homeostasis leads to increasing complexity in sentience.  Most species whose brains generate a self do so at the core level.  Humans have a core proto-self and and an autobiographical self.  Many animals do also: wolves, apes, dolphins, elephants, dogs, cats also have a core self and an autobiographical self.

7) Primate minds have become much more complex with even more memory and reasoning power.  The is the core self surrounded by the autobiological self.  Humans go even further.  They reach a new level of sophistication thru the use of culture and society.  Homeostasis acquires a new extension into society and culture.  Sociocultural homeostasis leads to the modern reduction of violence and an increase in tolerance.  [I think this is what others have called Memetics: evolution passing from the physical level to the cultural level or Cultural Evolution.  Is this is what is meant by “extended Phenotype and epigenetics??  Nessa Carey writes about this in her book Epigenetics and Junk DNA.]

Basic homeostasis is non-conscious.  Sociocultural homeostasis is created and guided by reflective conscious minds.  Both types operate as caretakers of biological value,which is the survival of living organisms.  This is the deliberate seeking of well being.  There is evidence that cultural development leads to changes in the genome.

8) Looking at the conscious mind in terms of evolution helps naturalize  the idea of mind.  [See it in terms of scientific discovery and knowledge and method.  Sean Carol talks about this in his new book]  Evolution also shows that mind is a stepwise progression in complexity.   We can both realize that what our self comes up with is not always dependable, but that the self can also be rational. Reason and scientific thought are possible.  Human minds can definitely be rational and scientific and come up with truth.

Chapter 2: From life regulation to Biological Value

Mid-book summary: A lot of what this book is saying is that much of what humans do is subconscious.  Our bodies do a lot of things subconsciously and automatically.  Body cells all independently have the drive to survive.  All body cells and tissues and organs and  systems do very complex jobs automatically and unconsciously.  Many living organisms have minds but not consciousness and do very well.  You don’t need the kind of self that causes consciousness, for brains for work well.  All brains, even human brains are intimately connected to body.  Many mammals have both self and brains, so they have  a simple kind of consciousness.  But their brains are nowhere near as complex as human brains.  This is not to say that human consciousness is not important, it is.  Human consciousness is where culture and science and society come from.  Humans can extend their evolution from biology to culture and society.  Consciousness is what makes this possible. It is this ability to extend themselves in society and culture that makes man different from animals.  Man is not the rational animal, he is the social anima.  Man can evolve socioculturally as well as biologically.  This is what makes him different from animals.

Damasio says that what his book has to say is counter-intuitive.  


This article is still in progress.  It will be finished soon.


Snowy tree, midwinter in Maine.  Picture by Hanselmann Photography. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s